“The Help” — Seeing the Structure in Living Color. Literally.

By Shane Arthur of Writing Prompts

I could write until I’m blue in the face (dressed in black while wearing cool sunglasses) about how the principles of story engineering have helped me see books and storytelling like Neo sees zeros and ones in the movie The Matrix.  My previous Storyfix guest post attests to this eye-opening analogy.

In doing that post I realized that writing about the benefits of proper story structure is like describing a flower—not as effective as simply showing a picture of a flower.

I needed to create a visual of story structure to drive home fully how valuable this structural model is. So I did.

Take a close look at the images below, especially the first one. 

Look at the bottom of the book.

There they are, the four parts of “The Help” in full four-color glory.  Four parts, four colors, each of roughly equal length.  Story unveiling in quartiles, each with a unique and separate contextual mission to fulfill.

Coincidence?  I think not.

As you can see, a different color represents each of the four sections of a book.

Major milestones like the first plot point and mid point are noted where they appear.

I chose yellow for the Part 1 setup because I felt that color best represented discovery.

I chose pink to represent the Part 2 response where the protagonist is reactive but unsure.

I used red to represent the Part 3 attack stage—what better color could I choose for such a contextual stage?

And I used green to represent outcome.

Each scene within these four parts is marked to allow me to remember the importance of scene execution, and study this basic building block of successful storytelling.  I’ve even gone so far as to put the book’s scene numbers and total page numbers of each scene into Microsoft Excel and plot a chart to see what patterns I can see.

Story engineering, indeed.

Larry’s been telling us forever that if we break down books into their smaller compartments, each with a target mission and context, storytelling won’t seem as daunting. Until I visualized “The Help” with color, I didn’t completely convince myself.  But when I looked at the different colored sections of this book, I said, “I’ll be damned. Writing a book seems easier now.”

Just like neo getting his first glimpse of the Matrix.  It’s always there, but only when you see it can you use it. Otherwise, it’s using you.

With this visual deconstruction of The Help, I can pass down a valuable tool to my son and daughter if they ever choose to pursue a writing career too. And for this gift, I offer Larry the following graphic:

Note from Larry — no better online gift than a huge smile.  Thanks to Shane for sharing this helpful tactic and his enthusiasm.

Also, please help me re-launch my 2004 critically-acclaimed novel, “Bait and Switch” on Kindle and Smashwords (coming soon to Nook and iBook).  The goal is to crack the Kindle Top 100… we have a nice start with several hundred books moved over the weekend.  It’s up for 99 cents in July, and I’ll refund your money if you don’t like the read.  So please give it a shot, and if you like it, tell your friends.

If we reach the Top 100 in July, I’ll do an extensive deconstruction series on the book from the author’s point of view, something we can’t bring to the other deconstructions we show here.  There is a lot of stuff going on in the mind of the author of this book, and I’ll splash it on the page for you, provided enough people show interest by buying it.

Again… it’s 99 cents, and it’s both proven and guaranteed.

Sexy novels that turn fantasy into dangerous reality are — well, they’re not hard to find, but really good ones are on the rare side, and relationship thrillers (think romances on steroids and Viagra) that that are fun to read and sometimes make you think are even rarer.  That’s the take on “Bait and Switch” — vicarious fun with heavy-handed themes.

Read more about this offer on my previous post, HERE.


Filed under "The Help" Deconstruction series

20 Responses to “The Help” — Seeing the Structure in Living Color. Literally.

  1. uptoolate

    The photos aren’t showing up for me. It could be my Chromebook…

  2. Nope. No pictures here either 🙁 Not in the NetNewsWire feed, nor in the blog itself on Google Chrome. But they sound lovely, though.

  3. Thanks for the heads up. Should be good now, it shows here in my old fashioned second hand Explorer browser.

  4. Working tickety-boo, Larry 🙂 Thank you.

  5. Pingback: Storyfix Guest Post #2

  6. Super idea of the color breakdown, Shane! Really drives the point home. Any notations on your Excel chart that might be helpful to us? If so, would you be willing to share it with us?

    Thanks for the help, and thanks to Larry for bringing this to us.

  7. @Nann: What struck me with Part One was the pattern of “number of pages per scene” created a wave shape (almost like a child would draw waves on a sheet of paper with spikes and troughs. I can’t say why this pattern matters. Perhaps such a pattern lends to a wave-like dance motion as we read the book. Don’t know, but it was cool to see such a pattern and try to deconstruct why such a pattern exists.

  8. Colleen McKie

    Hey Larry!

    What’s with the Kindle-only love? I have a Nook, would love to read your book, but they don’t have it. What’s up with that?

    • It’s in the machine. THe process is different; Smashwords has to do some gynmastics before they’ll accept the book. That was done the day after the Kindle promo, so I’m anxious for it, too. Please stay tuned, I’ll let you know when it breaks there. No Kindle preference over Nook from me, just easier access to the venue. Thanks! l.

  9. Simple & visuals – two of my favorite things! 🙂 Structure is like a map to your favorite destination – once you get it down, the map moves from paper to your heart.

    Thanks for a great post, Shane.

  10. @Colleen — my comment above was in response to your totally valid Kindle vs. Nook observation. Just to clarify. Thanks, L.

  11. I like your system because it breaks down writing a book into four easy parts. Writing a book a doesn’t seem like an overwhelming process anymore.

  12. @Rebecca: Exactly. When I colored this book, I said the same thing. “I may not be ready to write a book,” I said, “but I bet I could write a section of one.”

  13. The brain of Shane is never in the plain!
    I like how you changed my viewpoint of the quartiles from abstract page numbering to concrete page identification.
    This is huge.

    I wonder if writers will start plotting (get it?) their outlines in a spreadsheet graph, rather than in a boring word processor.

    I gotta go, now. Lunch date with Bait and Switch!



  14. @Mitch: Glad you like it. I’m a visual learner, so techniques like this go a long way for my brain. I had another picture where I showed the scene-markers inside the book, each one highlighted the color of the section it’s in. Just by seeing the colored scene markers, I know what type of content I’m currently reading in relation to the four sections, and I know which section I’m in. It’s super cool stuff.

  15. Hey Shane — great post!

    Love “The Matrix” comparison — that’s exactly it, isn’t it? The patterns are there, if you look closely enough. But once you learn to control it, you can bend bullets.


  16. @Graham. Thanks buddy. Yeah, once you see it, the bullets don’t look as scary. The colors we true eye openers for me.

  17. Shane, this is AMAZING!! You’ve done what I’ve been trying to figure out how to do for awhile now: illustrate to myself what story structure looks like in a published novel. I am going to grab my own copy of “The Help” and color it like you did. Thanks for the inspiration!

  18. @Jennifer: Isn’t it something! I couldn’t belive it either, but it hit me when I finished coloring it. I’m a visual learner, so I need this type of tool to drive home the point. I didn’t finish at the point of this posting, but on the long side of the book I started to list all the major points that occur within each section (using the tent diagram pdf Larry posted some time back).

  19. Great learning tool, Shane! I’m certainly going to try it out, too. Just downloaded “Story Engineering” and got it on the to-read list for next week.